The Wedding Bystander
by A.A. Garrison
Marcus was a holy man of sorts, despite shunning both robes and sandals. God sent him on missions of insight, these transcribed in a new holy book.
Today’s mission started as always, with “Achoo!”
God spoke to Marcus through the patterns of his sneezing, as a kind of auspice or tarot. To learn today’s destination, Marcus coaxed a sneeze and then read his handkerchief, the schematic of mucus there.
To the countryside!
God also spoke directly, via channeling, often during these drives. This happened on the way to the country. “People are expert ignorers, Marcus,” God said, through Marcus’s mouth but in another voice. “It becomes a way of life, ignoring. Ignore now, and you’ll ignore later. Ignore the elephant in the living room, and suddenly they’re everywhere, an obstacle course of elephants, and you have to walk strange.” God coughed, then added, “Come, Marcus. I will show you.”
After a second sneeze, Marcus was led to an intersection, a sign planked at roadside:
The sign was multicolored and wore balloons. Marcus reread his last sneezing, and turned right. He found the church some miles down the road.
He just caught the ceremony, the only man in shirtsleeves. The bride and groom were young and handsome, a sizable crowd in their Sunday best. An air of formality plagued them, the eyes extinguished and far, grins beyond cracked—symptoms of ignoring. Marcus wondered if this was the lesson God had hinted at, but a sneeze would’ve been impolite.
Once the couple was officially wed, Marcus followed the ignorant assembly to a reception, at a quaint dining hall across town. The hall was filled with a buffet and some tables, its parquet dance floor seeing little use. The cake was a massive, three-tier affair, roped off like art. No alcohol, the drinks strictly soft. The service’s formality remained intact, as evidenced in the faces and eyes, a trancelike detachment. Marcus seemed to be the only one immune to this.
He assembled a plate at the buffet and took it to a table in the corner. The table’s corresponding light was malfunctioning, affording a pleasant darkness. Marcus feared being approached and questioned, perhaps lured into the trance so popular here; but he went unnoticed. Everyone was glued to their tables and meals, looking anywhere but other eyes.
When Marcus had finished his plate, then a second, and still not learned God’s lesson, he put his handkerchief to use. The reading surprised him.
Slowly, he raised his tablecloth, as instructed: it opened into a child-sized tunnel, a light at its end.
Marcus took a look around and ducked inside.
He crawled briefly through warm, humid air, a climate wholly different than the reception hall’s. Then The Anchorite was guiding him by the wrist, her grip strong and true. “Marcus,” she said. “Marcus.”
Her purdah was stone-floored and candlelit, with an array of television screens displaying the dining hall. The Anchorite was of some indeterminable age, nude but for some pink harem pants and the moldered remnants of a mask. Beyond the room was an occupied darkness, movement describing mated shapes which were perhaps unspeakable. Marcus looked this way and that.
“See here, Marcus,” The Anchorite commanded in her Arab lilt. She pointed a fescue to one of the surveillance TVs, two tuxedo-clad men in it. “Ignorers here, entranced. See their nodding to things not remotely understood, the quivering faces, the dilated pupils. These are indicators of unawareness—of the ignoring, yes? I say this is so and you say this is so and so it is so, yes? A most regrettable condition. You must be happy, says this particular trance. This is a wedding! You must be happy! So happy you are, even if not. Heaven weeps eternal! And that is only the tip of the iceberg, very tiny tip of what the trance says you must and mustn’t be, yes?”
Marcus, stunned, said “Iceberg.”
“Now, see,” The Anchorite said, and the surveillance screen changed, with no action on her part. It showed one of the two entranced tuxedo men, now alone, and elsewhere. “This is the same man, tomorrow, no longer at the wedding—no longer in the trance. Look.” The image froze and the fescue indicated choice areas of the man’s face. “The eyes clear and smart, the muscles lax, no smile to be seen. He has unplugged from the group mind, once more become his own. Much like before and after orgasm. A one-eighty, yes?”
Her fescue tapped loudly the TV screen. “Now, Marcus, do you understand your mission?” The Anchorite finished.
Marcus looked between The Anchorite and the TV and said “No.”
“Unplug!” The Anchorite said, suddenly riled. “You must unplug them, Marcus! Save them from themselves!” Her breasts shook mightily.
Marcus stroked his chin. “God said He had something to show me…”
“Yes, yes!” The Anchorite cried. “Ignorers, they ignore reality, plug into illusion.” She whacked his arm unplayfully. “Now, go!”
The Anchorite shooed Marcus down the tunnel and back to the reception. When he took his seat and lowered the tablecloth, it was like he’d never left.
Marcus waited nearly half an hour, trying to solve this “unplugging,” before employing his mucus. He took up a napkin and sneezed hard.
The result sent him to the men’s room, for the toilet reservoir in the handicapped stall.
The bathroom was itself a study of ignorance, men swaying about as they suffered one another’s sounds and odors. The handicapped stall was, to Marcus’s dismay, occupied. As if in answer, The Anchorite appeared beside him.
“Don’t upset, you!” she said at once, and the words seemed to enter Marcus’s head directly. “I’m just a projection, for you only. Ignorers see nothing!”
Marcus thought to her: I understand.
As he waited for the handicapped stall to vacate, The Anchorite lectured:
“Notice the discrepancy here.” Her projection indicated the men walking about, zipping zippers or capturing coughs with their hands. “See their unsmiling, their wounded eyes, their uncertain movement? They are realizing the trance, for it does not extend to this place. Here, the energy wanes—the pull of the reality, its gravity, tidal in strength—it wanes, and so they begin unraveling the trance which had befallen them. They had forgotten what is inside them, who they are, until it is no more—but now it returns! The things inside do not forget them, yes? And so now they surface, to the terror of the subject.”
The Anchorite gestured expansively. “Do you understand what you see here, in this place of piss-shitting? The mask slipping, as it where?”
Marcus assumed she meant “as it were.” He told her he understood.
The Anchorite’s belly dance said she was pleased. She remained so when a toilet flushed and an amputee emerged from the handicapped stall, blowing into a straw-equipped apparatus. Marcus took his place inside and latched the door.
He had no idea what he would find in the toilet reservoir, but the hypodermic needle surprised him anyway. Comically large, it was filled with a greenish substance unpleasing to the eye. Marcus dried it off and stashed it in his jacket pocket, taking guilty looks around. When he came out, The Anchorite’s projection was gone.
Once at the table, he performed more mucus-mancy, now in regards to the needle’s purpose, and was directed back to the tunnel. After lifting the tablecloth and shimmying through, however, Marcus found himself not in The Anchorite’s purdah, but the lab of Dr. Head.
Dr. Head’s head was vaguely banana-shaped, an aspiring C, and colored a bell-pepper red. Surrounded by many elaborate experiments, Dr. Head was confined to a wheelchair, with a nurse as always, due to his tremendous head and vixocalcified legs (vixocalcification, developed by the doctor himself, involved leaching the precious calcium secreted only by human bones, to be processed using several psychotropics and then injected into the heel—or, at the physician’s discretion, the anus, deep deep into the anus—as to imbue the injectee with a superior intellect and godlike powers, with side effects of glaucoma, spontaneous combustion, triskaidekaphobia, and the grotesque enlargement and discoloration of the head). The doctor’s robotic contraptions were without names, and were made of things without names. He spoke only in verse.
“The erumpent gulls welcome Marcus here / Doth he stand to lend an ear?” said Dr. Head, through grimaced lips that had never smiled. His nurse looked on coldly.
Marcus said, “What’s the needle for?”
Dr. Head’s robotic army could do anything, but he was telekinetic, so they were unnecessary. His eyes closed and his head glowed slightly, and a very advanced television hovered through a doorway. It showed the reception hall, focused on the romantic cake.
Dr. Head’s head glowed stronger. “Ignorers with feet of finest clay / The cosmic phallus of great erect / Stab cake thusly but caution yay / Inject, then, Marcus, inject, inject!”
Marcus sat deciphering this, on a robotic stool. “Inject the cake? With the green gunk?” he said, eventually.
Dr. Head only watched him, the nurse also. Alembics dripped and cauldrons bubbled.
Marcus turned to the flying TV, its light sweeping his face. The cake had yet to be cut. He then reviewed his last sneezings, unfolding the handkerchief and napkin like newspaper, and it was clear: yes, inject the cake.
Marcus waited for Dr. Head to say more, but the creature only stared. “Uh, thanks,” Marcus said, and started away, his robotic stool zooming from him. “I’ll just go, and … eh …” He gestured toward the tunnel and the reception, already walking.
Dr. Head watched him leave.
Injecting the cake proved troublesome. It was the dining hall’s focal point, red velvet, towering man-sized like some odd furniture. Marcus conjured up a weak, diminished sneeze, and got only “distraction.” He was still scheming when the bride’s father tapped a glass.
It turned the room’s heads to the bride and groom’s banquet table, where the bride was preparing to throw her garter, as was accustomed in those times. Men gathered awkwardly, slump-shouldered bodies knocking against one another, smiles cracked to the point of injury. Pictures were taken, attention paid. Only the children were enjoying themselves, this travesty lost on them.
Marcus made his move.
He snuck along the back wall, cake-ward, becoming the shadows; but it was unnecessary. The attendants simply did not see him, were in another world—ignoring. Marcus noted this, and thus understood the day’s lesson. He praised the one true God as he injected the cake’s three tiers.
The spent needle returned to his pocket and Marcus backed from the cake, spectating the garter-tossing like the rest of the room. The garter was thrown and received, the men making noises meant to prove interest. Marcus resumed his post at the room’s margin, and The Anchorite reappeared, another projection.
“A fine job, Marcus,” she said, the words disturbing her mask. “The drug shall commission in them a certain reality, via manipulation of conscious frequency and perception, like the ignoring but with a different result. They will respond not to the drug itself, but from their very vulnerability to this process—a willingness, yes? Because that is the key—not the reality itself, but the cooperation with the phenomenon. You may say, ‘But so what? They are benign enough’—but no! What about later, when they are in the rioting mob and the mob-reality says death and murder and hurt? Ah, because they are vulnerable to this influence, they shall succumb, and achieve violence as they now do false smiles and nods.
“Do you not see, dear Marcus? It is not against the ignorers we fight, but the very act of consensual reality.”
Marcus pondered this, then said, “It’s the principle of the thing, that’s so bad. Because you open yourself to the herd mentality.”
The Anchorite’s projection lit up, becoming more solid. “Yes, yes! The boy sees!” She raised olive-skinned arms, her bosom leaping with them. “He learns, this one! Malashik ala-mai!” Then she winked away, leaving empty space.
The bouquet-throwing had occurred during The Anchorite’s visit, and so now the cake was being served. A chain of people distributed the wee slices, as they would send buckets of water to a fire. The congregation made quick work of the thing, like people do anything sweet. When a piece came Marcus’s way, he waved it off.
It took only minutes for the drug to take hold. The people seemed even more dazed than previously, their jaws unhinging. Marcus caught sentence fragments about feeling strange, and the room appearing sexier; then the carnage sprung forth. Fists flew simultaneously, with or without targets, fights becoming general. Bridesmaids transformed into shrieking harridans, glue-on nails drawing blood. Be-suited men sparred each other, or walls or furniture or shadows. Grandparents were not immune, liver-spotted hands seeking out their kindred. Some expressed this lunacy sexually, copulations arising in twos and threes, the penetrations almost fully clothed. Wildcat children attacked the buffet as if starved, using the food as projectiles or paint or food.
Marcus crouched behind his table like it was a trench, eyes just cresting it. Just as the violence was really going, a broadcast came to him, from Dr. Head:
“Lest ye weep for noon the morrow / The Sheep shall stand and bring ye sorrow / Masterful the potter’s hands / The kraut gave runs but no sporrans / The nomads plunder Neptune’s toe / So go, ye lad! / Go, go, go!”
Marcus came away from it with “go,” and so he went, along the wall, as when fouling the cake. He left amidst the whipcrack of small arms, and the sloppy yom yom yom of impromptu cannibalism. Save for dodging some flung furniture and an ejaculation or two, he escaped uneventfully, along with some wait staff and a diabetic, and any cake-haters in attendance.
He drove from the reception hall at speed, leaving it afire, anonymous objects spewing from the windows.
Back home, in his torch-lit hermit’s cave, Marcus sat down to transcribe the day’s lesson. However, as he unraveled his parchment and dipped his quill, he was interrupted by another sneeze.
“Well done, child,” it read, with a certain runniness which conveyed sincerity.
Marcus nodded warmly, and wiped his hands on his pants. He then began his holy book’s latest entry, entitled “The Wedding Bystander.”
About the Author
A.A. Garrison is a twenty-nine-year-old man living in the mountains of North Carolina. His short fiction has appeared in dozens of publications, both in print and online, and his first novel, THE END OF JACK CRUZ, is now available from Montag Press. He blogs at synchroshock.blogspot.com.
“The Wedding Bystander” © 2012 A.A. Garrison